21 William J. Mitchell, a leading American architect and information technologist,
lectured at Issam Fares Hall on "E-topia: The Future of Cities in
the Digital Era". His talk was presented by AUB and the Agha Khan
Trust for Culture.
Professor Mitchell, Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is one of the first
to articulate a coherent vision oh how digital telecommunications will
shape the Cyberfuture. He is also author of the whimsically titled: E-topia:
Urban Life, Jim- But Not As We Know It, upon which he based his lecture.
"The form and size of cities depend on their network of infrastructure,
such as railroads, roads, water and sewerage systems", Professor
Mitchell said. "Digital telecommunications is the latest infrastructure,
although the difference is that this new infrastructure will be virtual
as well as physical."
Professor Mitchell does not think existing neighborhoods will look
much different in the future but that they will be used in a different
way. New"neural structures" will be superimposed on buildings,
creating a high-speed telecommunications links and "smart places".
He described a future where traditional commuting and shopping
habits are replaced by "live/work dwellings, 24-hour neighborhoods,
loose-knit, far-flung configurations of electronically mediated meeting
places, flexible, decentralized production, marketing and distribution
systems, and electronically summoned and delivered services".
The challenge for the architect and urban designer, said Professor
Mitchell, is how cities will adapt to a world that places greater emphasis
on electronic information than on geographic centrality, the consumption
of scare resources and the accumulation of things.
"Digital telecommunications will definitely have an impact
on the way Beirut and Lebanon work," he argued. "In fact it
is a great opportunity for the country."
"With all the rebuilding of Beirut'ss infrastructure, there
is the chance to integrate the latest thinking. Whatís more, Beirut
has traditionally depended on international connections with the wider
In order to give Lebanon and the region a helping hand in tackling
these fundamental urban challenges, Professor Mitchell is heading a project
run from MIT to create an online learning community for architects and
urban planners in the Muslim world. Archnet is being developed at MIT
with the support of the Agha Khan Trust for Culture. Its aim is to promote
intercommunication between scholars, practitioners, educators and non-specialists
through the sharing of text, images and data. Professor Mitchell said
he hopes to bring in AUB as an "active partner".
Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Dean Mitchell also serves
as Architectural Adviser to the President of MIT. Before coming to MIT
he was the G.Ware and Edythe M. Travelstead Professor of Architecture
and Director of the Master in Design Studies Program at the Harvard Graduate
School of Design. He previously served as UCLAís Graduate School
of Architecture and Urban Planning and has also taught at Yale, Carnegie-Mellon
and Cambridge Universities. In 1997 he was awarded the annual Appreciation
Prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan for his "achievements
in the development of architectural design theory in the information age,
as well as worldwide promotion of CAD education.
audience at Professor Mitchel's lecture